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Kill complacency, not Test cricket

No excuses can be made for a pitch that's overly loaded in favour of batsmen, or for bowlers who don't give it their all

Zaheer Khan: the spearhead has been frustratingly blunt © AFP

If Test cricket ever dies, the BCCI can give itself a massive pat on the back for having administered some lethal blows. Apparently, the obsession with all things one-day cricket isn't enough. No, they need to come up with pitches like those at Motera and Mohali to ensure that Test cricket's ECG comes ever closer to a flat line.
If you can have government inquiries that take people to task for sexing up intelligence dossiers, and cooking up facts, you can surely haul someone up by the collar for masterminding this latest spit in cricket's face. The pitch at Motera was unsporting enough, but this one takes the cake, the ale and everything else on the table besides.
To term it an atrocity would be an understatement. Any surface on which the batsmen sail serenely through three days for 833 runs, losing only seven wickets, is an affront to the idea of fair play. If one of the fast bowlers went out tonight, shovel in hand, and dug up the wretched strip, you couldn't blame him. And better still, it would save us another two days of this farce.
New Zealand took it to one extreme last winter, coming up with two tracks that afforded more bounce than the average Wonderbra. India have responded with two that have shown as many signs of life as an Egyptian mummy. In the process, fans from both sides have been deprived of any sort of genuine contest. But frankly, if the authorities cared, they would have done something about it years ago.
Virender Sehwag's unfettered strokeplay - he was occasionally troubled by Ian Butler and Daniel Vettori - gave the enthusiastic crowds something to cheer, but that will be just about the only thing India take out of this series. Though New Zealand's bowlers struggled just as much in unforgiving conditions, they at least gave it their best shot, unlike some Fancy Dans in the home side.
Backing a player is a wonderful thing, but doing so blindly is just a recipe for complacency. Even on this pancake of a pitch, Butler steamed in at well over 140 kmph, occasionally testing the batsmen with well-directed, steepling bouncers. By contrast, Zaheer Khan, supposedly the spearhead of India's pace attack, didn't top 140 even once. After that opening burst at Motera, his bowling has veered from the woeful to the pathetic. Even the best bowlers go wicket-less sometimes, but what they don't do is cut down on effort.
Harold Larwood bowled till his feet bled on concrete-hard wickets in Australia during the Bodyline series, while Malcolm Marshall decimated an England side at Headingley with one arm in plaster. So why wasn't Zaheer going at full throttle? Why was he even slower than L Balaji? If he's carrying a knock, he shouldn't have been playing. And if he was just conserving energy, the best place for that is the couch at home. There are no excuses whatsoever when you're outbowled by Sachin Tendulkar, who's hardly Damien Fleming in disguise.
Zaheer would do well to look at some videos of Andy Bichel in Perth. Bichel is a decade older, yet he bounded in like a terrier that had scented ankle throughout the two innings. Jason Gillespie and Stuart MacGill were absent injured for the bulk of the second innings, while Brett Lee was largely firing blanks, but Bichel made sure they weren't overly missed on a surface where batting was no nightmare even on the fifth day. He bowled 49.2 overs in testing conditions, finishing with 6-125 for the match.
Samuel Johnson once wrote, "He whom success has made confident of his abilities quickly claims the privilege of negligence, and looks contemptuously on the gradual advances of a rival, whom he imagines himself able to leave behind whenever he shall again summon his force to the contest. But long intervals of pleasure dissipate attention and weaken constancy; nor is it easy for him that has sunk from diligence into sloth to rouse out of his lethargy, to recollect his notions, rekindle his curiosity, and engage with his former ardour..."
There's a lesson in there somewhere. Bichel doesn't know when he'll get his next cap, and because of that, he plays every match with the intensity of a man playing his last. Insecurity isn't always a good thing, but the likes of Zaheer and Harbhajan Singh could do with an injection of some after two matches when they've done little more than paint by numbers.
Dileep Premachandran is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo in India.